Global Conversation with Nicole Allen White, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Nicole Allen White is the Director of Government Affairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she manages the Museum’s government relations for city, state and federal initiatives and works cross-departmentally to advance the Museum’s community engagement activities.

Prior to joining the Art Museum she served as the Director of Policy & Community Engagement at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. While at the Cultural Alliance, she successfully spearheaded the campaigns to restore and maintain funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

She holds a B.A. in Communications from The George Washington University and a J.D. from the Drexel University School of Law.

Currently, she serves as the Chair of the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee, the Vice-Chair of USA250 and chairs the Advocacy Committee of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. She is also the co-founder of the Pattison Leader Ball, an event that brings together the future leaders of Pennsylvania on the night of the Pennsylvania Society Annual Dinner.

What does your role consist of as Director of Government and External Affairs at PMA?

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is, as we like to say “The Cultural Heart of the City”. It is a city owned building and sits on city land, so a lot of my job is to liaise between the city and museum on various issues. I manage all of the museum’s relations with city, regional, state, and federal levels. The really fun part is the external affairs – working with the community engagement department, working with Philadelphia communities and residents to make sure that all feel comfortable and welcome in the museum.

What did you do before this, and what prepared you for this role?

Prior to working at the museum, I was Director of Policy and Community Engagement for the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. I managed our advocacy efforts at the city, state, and federal levels, which I feel greatly prepared me for my role at PMA. The main difference was that I was advocating for the entire sector, and now I am advocate for one institution. The biggest difference is that I am able to be an expert on PMA programming. . Before when at the Cultural Alliance, I was aware of some things that our members were doing but I only had short vignettes or stories in my mind, and now I have much more in-depth knowledge about my institution, for instance, exactly how many kids are coming in and what they’re doing, and I really enjoy that.

What has been the largest obstacle that the PMA has faced in recent years and how did you overcome it?

The obstacle at both the PMA and when I saw at the Cultural Alliance was that as much as Philadelphia truly embraces its cultural sector and the role that it has played in the  revitalization of our city, like with the  development of the Avenue of the Artsand other initiatives that began under Mayor Rendell, culture is still considered something of an amenity – something nice to have, but not a need to have. I think these attitudes are changing very rapidly, but you still find situations when there are budgetary issues, in many cases arts and culture is the first to be cut. That continues to be an obstacle when you might be advocating for funding or support from government, and that’s something that I worked with at both organizations.

You are also the Chair of the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee, could you tell me a little bit about that role and the goals for the committee?

The Millennial Advisory Committee is about a year old, and we have 21 members. Our goal and our mission is two-fold, to be a voice of our peers to the administration and to also serve as a face of the administration to our peers. We are advocating for policies that help to retain and attract millennials to the City, and not just our peers in Center City or Greater Center City, but also those in neighborhoods from Mount Airy, to the Northeast, to Point Breeze and everywhere in between, and to discern what issues our generation is facing and how the Kenney administration can address those issues and make life better in the city. When it was announced the City received over 400 applicants, and from those applications we learned what issues were on the top of mind for our generation, which gave us a nice place to start. We decided to focus on the financial future of our generation, including jobs and financial literacy, social justice issues, specifically reentry and how the city better provide resources for returning citizens and lessen the sigma they may face , and lastly neighborhood change and development. Our neighborhoods are changing so much and millennials are moving into areas where there might already be an older population, and we’re looking into how we can bridge gaps that might come up and feel better connected to their community and neighbors.

Do you feel that millenials have changed the PMA experience and how the city works in recent years?

I think the Philadelphia Museum of Art is engrained in this city.  The building itself instills a sense of pride in Philadelphians and a sense of awe from tourists.From people running up our steps and stopping by the rocky statue, to  serving as host and  backdrop for some of the city’s largest events, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the city’s most iconic buildings.  Inside the building we house one of the country’s greatest collections and we are committed to sharing that collection with all Philadelphians, particularly youth. We have a very diverse way of offerings and programming, and I would say as a result of that work that we have done our average age is 35 now, and it used to be 55. On a Wednesday when we do ‘pay what you wish’ admission, that number goes down to 31. So I feel that as millennials are flocking here and the millenials who are native here are seeking to expand what they are doing in the city, the museum is becoming a hub of that. We try to have both ideas work in tandem with each other. As the city evolves, so does our programming.

What international initiatives are you currently involved with? I’m sure a lot of international activity occurs at PMA, what about the Committee or USA 250?

We always have international partnerships going on with PMA! At the moment we are doing mostly collection-based shows, and our collections span a large part of the world. It’s really fun; I get to coordinate visits from consuls from up and down the northeast whocome to see how their country is represented at the PMA. Also, we have a number of works of art that are touring around the world now or will soon, including many works in our Duchamp For USA 250, the celebration is both a national and international celebration. In the past, other countries have always contributed to celebrating the milestone anniversaries/birthdays of the U.S., and the first great modern democracy, so we anticipate that this will not be any different. For the Advisory Committee, we want to connect with our peers who are new to this country and city, and serve as a resource for them.

What do you think of Philadelphia as a global center, or an international hub?

When I go to New York, you here so many languages being spoken, and it gives a sense that you’re in another country. I have been having this experience in Philadelphia lately, and as the city grows and transforms I think to myself that this is truly becoming a global city. For so long we had a ‘kid brother or sister’ complex in between New York and Washington, and now we certainly are showing that we stand on our own, and people from around the world are noticing that as well. Hosting the Papal Visit, the Democratic National Convention, these are stories that are being told around the world. We have garnered an international reputation, certainly aided and abetted by this organization with creating the first World Heritage City in the US, and we will continue to see that momentum going forward.


Article by Will Becker, GPA Ambassador